Iran's reported weapons purchases topped the agenda when Vice President Al Gore began talks with Saudi leaders here Friday.
Gore, who arrived from Israel on the second leg of a Middle East trip, also planned to visit nearly 4,000 U.S. airmen Saturday at Prince Sultan Air Base - a key American military foothold in the region.Regional security issues were expected to dominate Gore's brief visit, said U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Saudi leaders, fearing Iraqi threats to their country's vast oil resources, have deepened military ties with the United States since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
But recently Saudi concerns have shifted toward Iran, which the United States said had a role in a June 1996 bombing of a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American servicemen.
Iran denies any involvement in the attack, but it wields strong influence over the 2 million Saudi Shiite Muslims. The Shiite minority is restricted in practicing its faith by the Saudi leadership, which follows the Sunni branch of Islam.
Both Saudi and U.S. leaders are concerned over reports of an Iranian arms buildup, including possible purchases of conventional arms and Russian-made ballistic missiles. The U.S. Congress is considering imposing sanctions on Russia for the reported arms sales.
Some analysts consider Gore's 24-hour visit an important bid to reaffirm the U.S.-Saudi military partnership.
"After the gulf war, the Saudis were indebted to the United States. That period of indebtedness is coming to an end. There is a chance for a readjustment of policies in the region," said Joshua Teitelbaum, researcher in Middle East studies at Tel Aviv Un-i-ver-sity.
Gore first met with King Fahd, who is recovering from a reported gall bladder infection. Fahd, who had a stroke in 1995, looked strong and alert during the 30-minute visit and walked Gore to his limousine outside the royal palace.
He later met with Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, whose influence has risen with the king's health problems.